How to welcome a new person to your department

I recently went to a fun dinner party with a few colleagues from my new department, and I’d estimate that about half the faculty know me by name if they see me in the halls, which is pretty good… except that I wish I was saying this a year ago! I’m not all that new to the department, just finishing my second year. My entire first year, I had exactly two people in my department who were not my direct supervisors make an effort to talk to me.

When I’m on the other side, in a position to welcome a newcomer, I want to do a better job helping people feel comfortable and get integrated. Here’s my plan, and I encourage you to apply it in your world!

  1. If I know a new person is set to join my department I will ask my chair or person-in-the-know ahead of time for details about when they are arriving in town and starting, so I can be prepared to welcome them right away.
  2. I will have a short list (based on my own experience starting out) of things that a new person will find helpful, in the institution and in the town/area. This list will include the right people to talk to about certain common requests, where the most convenient lunch places and cafes are near the office, regular meetings and seminars of interest to get on the calendar, helpful resources outside the department, and other tips and tricks for navigating a new place. I’ll try to mention these helpful pieces of advice as they come up in conversation or when I think they’ll find them useful.
  3. When the person arrives I will go to their office and introduce myself (even if we met in an interview before – most people appreciate a reminder when they’re feeling like everything is new) and invite them to have lunch or a snack at that nearby cafe they’ll definitely want to know about.
  4. When there is a meeting or seminar or department event, I will ask the new person if they know about it, to make sure they’re on the right email distribution lists, and find out if they are going, and if they want to walk or ride together.
  5. I will not judge a newcomer for seeming standoffish. The burden should not be on the new person to introduce themselves or initiate interactions.

Even in my family I see newcomers (i.e. siblings’ significant others) struggling to find a place, and the regular crowd not making room and then wondering why the newcomer is “so hard to get to know”. It’s very difficult to insert yourself into a social dynamic that is years in the making and you know very little about! The onus is on the comfortable residents to make the new person feel welcome.

My goal is to help people get comfortable, be effective and productive, and know they have someone specific they can ask for help. I look forward to welcoming the next person to my world, and I hope you’ll consider how you can too!

This entry was posted in academia, advice, early career scientist, empathy, Environment, mentoring, new job, support. Bookmark the permalink.

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